MIL OSI Translation. Government of the Republic of France statements from French to English –
“I want the conditions to be met for the temporary or final restitution of African heritage in Africa within five years. »Emmanuel Macron, Ouagadougou, November 2017.
Culture as a vector of renewal in our relationship with Africa:
In his speech to Ki-Zerbo University in Ouagadougou, in November 2017, the President of the Republic called for the construction of a new common imagination between Africa and France. This new imagination goes through strengthened human links and a reciprocal conversion of looks. It is in this spirit that the President of the Republic has placed culture at the heart of the renewed partnership between France and Africa.
Historically, a very large part of Africa’s cultural heritage is now found outside Africa, de facto depriving African citizens of access to essential elements of their culture. This deprivation led, before 2017, the authorities of Benin to request, without success, the restitution of certain works in the collections of French museums.
In March 2018, the President of the Republic entrusted the drafting of a report to Felwine Sarr, Senegalese writer and economist, and Bénédicte Savoy, French art historian. This report, entitled “Restoring African heritage: towards a new relational ethic”, submitted on November 23, 2018, shed new light on the circumstances of “heritage capture” and on the specificity of African heritage, outlining proposals for the implementation of restitution processes. According to Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy, “restoring African heritage in Africa will overhaul a relationship between France and African states, notably backed by the writing of a shared history”. This report has given rise to numerous debates in France and internationally, debates carried on within the framework of the forum “African heritage: making a success of our new cultural cooperation together”, organized by the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs in July 2019. This forum brought together many French and European professionals. It made it possible to share good practices and to lay the groundwork for a new approach to our cultural relationship with the African continent, through several challenges beyond the act of restitution as such: the development of exchanges between French museums and African institutions, the circulation of works, the strengthening of partnerships in terms of training, the need to better document the provenance of the collections, and the challenge of transmitting to the French public the history of African works preserved in our museums.
Commitments kept with the restitution of cultural property in Benin and Senegal:
In his speech in Ouagadougou, the President of the Republic wished “to allow Africans, in particular young people, to have access in Africa and not only in Europe, to their own heritage and to the common heritage of humanity” . As a first act of concretization, he wished to initiate the process of restitution of the 26 works requested by Benin, taken during the war by General Dodds in the palace of Béhanzin in 1892. This commitment was made possible thanks to the remarkable preparatory work carried out by the Quai Branly museum which has not only allowed the conservation and enhancement of these objects but also, soon, their return.
In the same spirit, and at the request of Senegal, a long-term loan of the so-called El Hadj Omar Tall sword and its scabbard, kept by the Army Museum, has been granted. These are two cases of goods resulting from spoils of war linked to colonial conquests, not covered by international conventions in force. Two cases for which the conditions of security, conservation and public presentation could be guaranteed by the local authorities. In Benin, the 26 pieces of the “Trésor de Béhanzin” are intended to be exhibited in a new museum of the Amazons and the Kings of Dahomey, whose construction is supported by the French Development Agency. As for the saber, it is already on display at the Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar as part of a long-term loan agreement. At the same time, an ambitious program of cultural cooperation has been drawn up with the two countries, so that the restitution process is part of a global partnership with a future.
The legal route which has been adopted to allow these two restitutions without calling into question the inalienability of the national collections, is that of a specific bill authorizing a limited, framed and detailed derogation from this principle, without general consequences. on property law.
The bill relating to the “restitution of cultural property to the Republic of Benin and the Republic of Senegal” allowed for high-quality debates in the National Assembly and the Senate throughout its examination. Its adoption by Parliament on December 17, 2020 marks both the culmination of long work and the starting point of a renewed cooperation policy with our African partners.
A new policy of heritage cooperation with Africa:
It is not a question of restoring all the African works present in public and private and French collections. Nor is it a question of calling into question the principle, constitutive of the French conception of museums, of the inalienability of national collections. African heritage must continue to be showcased, in Paris as well as in Dakar or Cotonou. Acts of restitution must be part of both a rigorous process and part of a real policy of heritage cooperation, allowing all forms of circulation of works: restitution, but also exhibitions, exchanges, loans, deposits, cooperation , etc. For France, this involves engaging in close dialogue with its African partners in the cultural and heritage field, and providing financial assistance and expertise for the rehabilitation of African museums, the improvement of conservation and conservation conditions. renovation, and training of cultural actors on the continent.
Besides Benin and Senegal, five other African countries (Madagascar, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Mali, Chad) have formulated official requests for restitution. Each request is studied on a case-by-case basis by the competent French authorities, in conjunction with the cultural and scientific players concerned, and in consultation with the requesting State. Ambitious cultural cooperation programs are being built with each of these countries, mobilizing a variety of French operators (AFD, Louvre Museum, National Heritage Institute, RMN-Grand Palais, Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac Museum, etc.). In Ethiopia, for example, France is committed to the preservation and enhancement of the Lalibela site, but also of the Addis Ababa National Palace within which a museum will be created.
The new Africa France Summit to be held on July 9 and 10 in Montpellier will make it possible to continue this reflection and to build, with professionals from the culture and heritage sector of the African continent, France and Europe, this new heritage policy, opening the way to all forms of sharing and circulation of works, and to the construction of this new common imagination.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and / or sentence structure not be perfect.